Interreligious Dialouge: What's Ignatian About It?

By John Borelli

Those who inhabit boundaries often need to take a long view,especially if those boundaries are cultural and religious. For example,take the Jesuit pioneer, missionaries to India, the Far East and America,who crossed all sorts of borders, religious, cultural, ethnic, linguistic and imperial, laying foundations for interreligiousd ialogue. Their groundwork for interreligious ministry still bears fruit today. What are the specifics of that heritage? What is Ignatian about this approach to interreligious dialogue?

Fifteen Jesuit sministering primarily among Jews and/or among Muslims addressed this and other questions when they gathered at Georgetown University in early August. Fr.Thomas Michel (IDO), whoconvened the consultation, had asked the Georgetown Jesuit community to host it,and they did, grateful for the opportunity to host so many Jesuits involved in Jewish and Muslim relations. Michel has served as Fr.Kolvenbach’s secretary for interreligious dialogue since General Congregation 34 when interreligiousd ialoguew as emphasized as an integral element of Jesuit mission.

In his work serving the Society, Michel has held several consultations for Jesuits engaged in interreligious work—three of Jesuits with Jews leading up to a fourth held this summer (July 24- 30) at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus; five of Jesuits with Muslims; and, in conjunction with various assistancies, special meetings of Jesuits with Hindus or with Muslims. Michel also assumed responsibility for the ongoing gatherings of Jesuit ecumenists, 18 colloquia beginning in 1964.

Michel reports nomeetings with Buddhists and not very satisfactory meetings of Jesuits engaged inministry among indigenous peoples. When he explained this to the USA Jesuit Advisory Board on Interreligious Dialogue at our October 2006 meeting at Creighton, we set to work planning a consultation on dialogue and ministry among Native American peoples (reported in NJN 36/5, April/May2 007, “Jesuits Discuss Importance of Native American Ministry.”)

Prior to serving as the Society’s first secretary for interreligious dialogue, Michel had held posts in Asia and Rome, including managing Islamic relations for the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (1980-93), teaching positions at Turkish universities and coordinating ecumenical relations for the Federation of Asian Bishops’Conferences. His post at the Generalate and this special meeting of Jesuits ministering among Jews andamong Muslims are part of a long and distinguished career ininterreligious engagement.

Joining him at Georgetown were Frs. Salah Abou-Jaoudé (PRO) from Lebanon, Paolo Dall’Oglio (PRO) from Syria, David Neuhaus (PRO) from Israel,Christiaanvan Nispen(PRO) from Egypt,Daniel Madigan(ASL), MarcRastoin (GAL), Jan Roser (GER), and Jean-Pierre Sonnet (BME) from Europe,and Frs.Drew Christiansen (NYK), John Haughey (MAR), Ray Helmick (NEN),John Langan(DET), Jim Reites (CFN)and Pat Ryan(NYK) from the United States. I was fortunate to be a part of the meeting too.

So what did they decide was Ignatian about the way Jesuits approach interreligious dialogue? First, as noted above, this is a calling requiring a long view fromIgnatius’ wish to live among Muslims to see if God will provide fruit. The early companions felt called to be pioneers, boundary riders, crossing the frontiers of religious belief to witness the gospel.

Secondly, the Exercises prepared them. For example,the presupposition (praesupponendum) lays down a positive basis for dialogue, habituating them to put the best possible interpretation on what people say and presume that God deals with everyone as individuals. Conversation is personal encounter. In interreligious conversation we come to realize the unique value God ha splaced on every individual and top resuppose that everyone in somew ay intends to do God’s work well. Also, the Exercises teach gradual stages of insight, patience to allow interreligious relationships to develop,and a central role of prayer in interreligious dialogue. By asking for special graces and experiencing desolations and consolations, we learn the humility to listen and not to be insistent. We assess our successes and failures through the Examen. Thus the Exercises encourageus to contextualize every dialogue. Contextualization helps us avoid the shortcomings of generalizations.

A third Ignatian feature is a matter of emphasis. While others may focus on embodying the likeness of Jesus in how they witness the gospel in dialogue, there is an Ignatian emphasis on gaining an intimate knowledge of the mind of Jesus. This helps us empathize with Muslims devoutly seeking to believe as Muhammad believed, or with Buddhists to see as the Buddha saw,a nd so on. This is one way to understand another’s beliefs from within and a doorway to a wisdom tradition of interreligious dialogue.

The fourth is the strong Ignatian tendency for an autonomy of educational projects from the business of education. The society began among poor university students ministering to those in need. Jesuits first begin the ministry of education and then grow the money. The same should be true for interreligious dialogue, a natural form of education and catechesis among a pluralism of religious traditions.

Because Jesuits give priority to the universal church,they naturally lend themselves to the unity and communion experienced through interreligious dialogue. Dialogue serves communion within the church, among Christians, and among all peoples of faith. This is a service to the mission of the church to all peoples, and that is an essential aspect of Ignatian life.

Drawing froma 1546 letter of instruction by Ignatius to three Jesuitswho attended the Council of Trent, Willi Lambert derived seven Ignatian rules for communication: learn to see the surpassing worth of conversation, be slow of speech, pay attention to th ewhole person,b e free of prejudice, argue from authority cautiously, be modest when you are certain,a d give conversation the time it needs (Directions for Communication, Crossroad, 2000). The list drawn from the conversation of 15 Jesuits meeting at Georgetown last summer is strikingly similar.

Borelli is national coordinator for interreligious dialogue for the U. S. Jesuit Conference, and special assistant for interreligious initiatives to President John J.DeGioia of Georgetown University.

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